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Women's Audio Mission

Andrew Low
Women's Audio Mission

From its inception, Women’s Audio Mission’s (WAM) main goal has been to  increase the number of women working in the recording industry. But the fact is that women only represent five per cent of the business.

WAM founder Terri Winston believes that it is more to do with a lack of familiarity and the way women are socialised around technology from a young age than sexism. She explains: “WAM doesn’t tend to focus on the sexism aspect because you are going to find some kind of ‘ism’ anywhere you go. The industry has been really supportive of us. We are more trying to pick apart why women don’t naturally pick up a soldering iron or get excited about recording technology and I tend to think it is down to familiarity. My father is a traditional engineer and my mother comes from a biology background, so I was familiar with technology because I was around it all the time and now we use that model for WAM. If we can introduce women to audio engineering, it hopefully gets them over that hump so that they can grow more interested and comfortable with it.

“The bulk of what we are doing is training, all the way down to girls aged nine to 16. When you go into middle school, the girls have no idea that audio engineering exists, but when you show it to them they go crazy and are amazed that you can make a living doing it. Although I do tell them that I don’t know how much money they are actually going to make,” she says laughing. “As with any art form, if they love it then it doesn’t matter.”

In addition to getting the word out to young girls, WAM has also established many programmes to help women already established in the industry. Winston states: “We are doing advanced lectures for established engineers and bringing in more guest speakers. We just did an in-depth tour at Meyer Sound that was excellent, which was for both the established engineers and student members. We are about to do another one with a local TV and radio station. We have also been trying to focus on female students who may need extra training.

“Our recording studio is open for use by engineers and artists. It is very well staffed and the rates are extremely low for women who are WAM-certified, so that is the other benefit – bands get a great deal, women earn album credits, and once our students get out of school they can use a studio with excellent gear.”
WAM began off the back of Winston’s successful recruitment of women students while teaching at The City College of San Francisco. “I got the enrolment of the school up to 50 per cent female and decided, rather than travelling to schools everywhere, to get more girls involved and get all of the best practices together in one place, and from there it just kind of exploded. I didn’t expect it to mushroom so quickly. The industry has been great.”

Support from the industry has come in the form of donated equipment for WAM’s training studio. As such, it is equipped with a Pro Tools HD2 system with two 192 I/Os, Pro Control, and Sound Workshop 34 C and Sony DMX-R100 consoles. It also features Barefoot monitors, mics from Audio Technica, Heil, Mojave, THE and Shure, as well as high-end outboard gear from Daking, Lavry, Universal Audio, Millennia, A Designs, TL Audio, Great River, Purple Audio, Urei and Lexicon.

“All of the gear was donated from the industry. They wanted to see women using it and they want to see women getting credit on records and films. I have seen a lot of panels about getting more women into studio work, but to me the most important thing is getting them familiar with the gear and its applications, and the manufacturers have been very supportive of that.”

Although the studio and hands-on training is only available in the Bay Area, WAM members from around the world can benefit from the web-based training materials and read and watch interactive modules and videos to familiarise themselves with the gear and processes. Winston explains: “The online training materials were developed from a college training course that I developed. They are intense science-based training materials, which will serve everyone, not just women.

“The web materials are not intended to replace hands-on training, but they are very helpful for people in rural areas, or those who don’t have access to this kind of gear. We have members from all over the world. For instance, women in the Philippines have told us that they don’t have anywhere to go to use the gear, so even though they don’t have access to the equipment, they can watch the processes and see where to plug a microphone cable. This way they get to learn about the theory, science and concepts behind the processes used in a recording studio.”

The success rate of the programmes has been very high and WAM graduates have been placed in varying capacities throughout
the industry.

“One of the first women I placed had been hired as a right-hand person at Barefoot monitors,” Winston states. “Barefoot then donated a beautiful set of monitors that she designed. We have also placed a few people with Tracy Chapman. The last person did all the live recordings on her last tour. Then there is someone else at Pixar and most the studios in the Bay Area have worked with our women in some form. One of our graduates has recorded audio for the Discovery Channel, as well as Animal Planet and Comedy Central.”

Despite enjoying several success stories, Winston admits that it is still very challenging to train women as audio engineers, mostly because of the way they are socialised around technology. “When I get some that are good they really latch onto it, but that is a rare person.” She continues: “But I find that’s true ...

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as well. You see the same success rate, percentage wise. I think this is changing, but it is still a challenging area.”

As for the future, Winston believes that expanding online options is key to cultivating WAM’s international  membership and keeping members informed on the latest it can offer. “We just started doing our member meetings online only. We have 850 to 900 women all over the world and online conferencing has been a great thing for us. Women from Canada, England, Texas and NJ are getting involved, and we are now more connected as a community.

“Our big focus is this online training, because we have a very high-quality product that is revolutionary in the way that it is presented. We are really excited about men and women having access to these kind of materials.”

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